Presented on October 6, 2018 in the Barn at Quarry Farm as part of the Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium "American Literary History and Economics in the New Gilded Age."
In his 2015 essay "White Boy (American Hunger) and the Angel History: Russel Banks's Identity Knowledge," Evan Carton argues that Banks's novels provide an illuminating window onto the question of identity construction in that they repeatedly narrate a white identity that is "necessarily incomplete, relational, and creolized" - that seeks to acknowledge and understand white privilege but in the process often ends up recreating the historical violences that underpin it. We might, in this respect, understand Banks's protagonists as descendants of Huck Finn, who simultaneously relates to the slave Jim as a human being but also participates in Jim's degradation at the hands of Tom Sawyer and others.
In this presentation, however, I want to ask what happens if we see Banks as a student not of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but of Twain's novel with Charles Dudley Warner The Gilded Age (1873). In particular, I want to argue that Banks takes up and extends Twain and Warner's exploration of two key features of the Gilded Ag, corruption and privatization of infrastructure. But crucially - as attested by the fact that his racial dramas generally take place between white Americans and blacks from the Caribbean or Africa - Bank goes beyond Twain and Warner in seeing our current Gilded Age as not national but global.
Sheri-Marie Harrison is Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri where she researches and teaches Caribbean literary and cultural studies, Contemporary global Anglophone literature, and mass culture of the African Diaspora. Her first book Difficult Subjects: Negotiating Sovereignty in Postcolonial Jamaican Literature was published by the Ohio State University Press in 2014, and her research has been published in various venues including Modern Fiction Studies, Small Axe, The Oxford Research Encyclopedia and Los Angeles Review of Books. She currently serves as a member of the University of Missouri Press advisory board, and elected member of the Postcolonial Studies forum of the Modern Languages Association, and the motherboard of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present. She has a forthcoming chapter in the multi-volume edited collection Caribbean Literature in Transition and is also currently working on a manuscript titled After the Beginning Ends: Contemporary Fiction and Iconoclasm.